A National Plan for Water Security (Part 1)

Last week the Australian Prime Minister John Howard launched ‘A Nation Plan for Water Security’. It is a 10 point plan with a $10 billion budget to run for 10 years and it has generally been well received perhaps because many Australians feel there is a need for ‘water’ as an issue to be given a higher priority, for environmental flow issues and issues of over allocation to be sorted, and the provision of new water infrastructure fast tracked.

Most Australian live in a capital city and in almost every Australian capital city people have been inconvenienced by water restrictions. In Perth, Sydney and Brisbane city councils have even started reducing ‘water pressure in an attempt to ‘save’ more water as dam levels continue to drop.

I live in Brisbane and because of a failure by successive state governments to invest in infrastructure, a rapidly growing population and the drought, Level 4 water restrictions mean I can only water my garden with a bucket on particular days of the week between particular hours.

A planned plebiscite on the issue of drinking ‘recycling sewerage’ was cancelled yesterday with Premier Peter Beattie explaining that dams are so low we have no choice but to drink it.

A couple of thousand kilometers to the south in the Murray Valley irrigators who saved water late season by not growing a crop had half of this carry-over water taken from them by the New South Wales government just before Christmas after record low inflows in the upper catchment. Right now about 1,000 farms in this region are desperate for rain and running out of water for livestock for the first time since the beginning of irrigation in the region in the late 1930s.

Further south farmers are mopping up after a one in 50 year downpour flooded parts of South Australia and there was also good rain in central Australia and western Queensland earlier this month.

In the far north, where most of Australia’s rain has always fallen, there were good falls again last year and it could be argued that overall there has been a net increase in the amount of rain falling on the Australian landmass over the last 30 years.

But how useful is more rain in northern Australia, if water infrastructure and population are concentrated much further south?

The Prime Minister has suggested that there is a need for “a radical and permanent change in our water management practices” and that his 10 point plan will “improve water efficiency and address over-allocation of water in rural Australia”.

Will this mean there is more water for our cities?

Will the $10 billion plan proposed by the Prime Minister go someway towards securing Australia’s water future?

I plan to consider the 10 point plan, point by point through a series of blog posts.

26 Responses to A National Plan for Water Security (Part 1)

  1. Gavin January 29, 2007 at 8:37 pm #

    Beatie has seen a light at the end of the sewer. When are you moving north Jennifer? Plenty of fresh water studies coming up soon. Ask Senator Bill how to get on his rural band wagon.

  2. bazza January 29, 2007 at 10:35 pm #

    A useful summary, Jennifer apart from some interpretation. The Brisbane water restrictions are a result of extreme drought and not infrastructure planning failure. Your comments will hopefully include the perspective of the curious economics of public water projects and whether the $10b plan assumes a climate changed, or is maybe just good political risk management. Note my water bill in Brisbane is about a dollar a day – some people spill that much.

  3. Ian Mott January 29, 2007 at 11:53 pm #

    Jen, all you need to do is put the plug in your bath tub, have a really long shower like a large portion of Brisbane still does, and then run a syphon out to your garden. If your garden needs more water then just have another shower.

    The Brisbane water “crisis” is entirely self inflicted and it should not be forgotten that two of the key players in the Goss Governments decision to abandon the Wolfdene dam after the land had already been bought were none other than the alternate Prime Minister, Kevin Rudd, and the alternate Treasurer, Wayne Swan.

    Not surprisingly, this failure is, indeed, an orphan. Rudd and Swan are keen to blame it on global warming which is about as far away from their own guilt as one can get.

    The so-called water saving devices policy is a sham. The much vaunted water efficient shower heads are supposed to reduce water use from 15 litres a minute to only 6 litres. The problem with this is that I tested my old shower head, at the pressure that I have always used it and found that I was only using 5 litres a minute anyway. To get 15 litres a minute you would have to turn the tap full on and the spray will bounce all over the bathroom.

    Ditto for pool covers, my neighbour just spent $1800 on a pool cover that will only save him $50 worth of water each year. In fact, it will probably only save him a total of $50 because when La Nina arrives later this year and overflows the dam all this stuff will be useless.

  4. Steve January 30, 2007 at 9:34 am #

    Ian, you are quick to hassle me about using common sense instead of google.

    Well my common sense tells me that there are limits to my knowledge, and limits to any one person’s knowledge.

    I consider it a sign of intelligence for a person to have a good idea of what their own limits are.

    You’ve concluded that the whole water saving devices policy is a sham based on your own showerhead analysis.

    I would suggest that your analysis is completely inadequate for you to draw the conclusion you did. You seem in love with your own opinion to a point that suggests blockheadedness, not brains.

    For example, what rating was your old showerhead? Its quite possible you already had a low flow showerhead. Its also possible that you naturally like lower flow than most people. A sample of one isn’t real good is it?

    I’ve had both kinds of showerhead and can easily tell the difference in water flow when taking a shower.

    After the garden, the shower accounts for the biggest portion of water use in the average home, I think a policy of replacing showerheads makes sense and will pay for itself in no time given the water and energy (hot water) savings.

    By the way, the max flow from a 3A (or 3 star) showerhead is 9 litres a minute, not 6. And older style showerheads can go over 20 litres per min, not just 15.
    Where did you get your numbers from?


    You will also know that the flow is different if you have tried to use a 3A showerhead with an old instantaneous gas hot water system. A low flow through an old gas instant system is not sufficient to turn it on, and you get cold showers. Newer gas instant systems are now able to cope with low flow showerheads.

    Re pool covers, lets hope the next La Nina isn’t as weak as the last one, and lets hope the next big drought is years and years away so that your expectation that saving water is ‘useless’ will be, for practical purposes, correct.

  5. La Pantera Rosa January 30, 2007 at 11:03 am #

    Steve’s correct and Ian’s cake is half baked. Even some fairly modern gas heaters in apartments don’t cope well with low pressure. Other problems are caused by old plumbing and naughty teenagers running the shower as hard as it will go.

    Ian’s opinion doesn’t explain how and why residential water use has decreased. We know he didn’t survey the average shower volume flow in the average house in Byron shire. He also assumes showers over a bath. Ian’s opinions are mostly built on assumptions and self reference. eg his ‘factual’ claim that the Flores hobbit was just a diseased human. Too quick to jump on the sceptics bandwagon, allured by the banjo music.

  6. Steve January 30, 2007 at 11:16 am #

    Just went to fill up my 600ml drink bottle at the kitchen tap. It took about 5 seconds, over 100mL a second.

    You reckon you shower with a 5L/minute flow, or 83mL/second.

    Either you shower under the equivalent of a partly turned on kitchen tap (gold star for saving water!) or you were measuing your shower flow by sight and touch while intoxicated, or else you are bullsh1tting as per usual.

  7. Deborah Harry January 30, 2007 at 11:29 am #

    Ian is VERY proud of his envelope, make it come unglued at your own risk.

  8. Ian Mott January 30, 2007 at 1:08 pm #

    Steve, you are right. Myself, and a lot of other people I have asked to check, find that they shower under the equivalent of a partially turned tap, the shower tap. I don’t see any need to turn the thing full on and this, I suspect, is a very widespread manifestation of simple common sense.

    The same applies to my kitchen mixer tap. I have become acutely aware that it lacks the sensitivity to deliver the flow of water that I intended. It is especially so for young kids who must reach for the tap and invariably get a 15 litre/min flow for a 5 litre/min task.

    And in each of these cases I used a 10 litre container to ensure that I had a proper sample of flow, not a 600ml bottle.

    The data provided on water flow from so-called efficient taps was provided by Brisbane City Council with my rates notice. Steve, pink/deborah pants et al may not be familiar with one of those but it is quite clear that the government’s policy has been overly (mis)informed by the plumbing industry who have allowed the water boofheads to assume that maximum flow rates are the same as actual flow rates.

    The taxpayer always pays for government incompetence.

    And if any of you were a farmer’s armpit you would recognise a number of ways to use water more efficiently than what is being bandied about as a proxy for informed debate. But as you don’t know, and continually resort to defamatory attacks, I have no interest in making you any wiser.

    Good luck with your crisis folks. It seems the old exhortation to “suck s..t” has finally come home to it’s rightful roost.

  9. steve munn January 30, 2007 at 2:08 pm #

    Ian Mott,

    Some older men grow reflective and wise while others turn sour and abusive. You are obviously one of the latter.

    We don’t need more dams, we need to use the already available water better. For example the amount of storm water in metro Melbourne is almost the equivalent of the rain falling in our catchments. I suspect other Australian capital cities are roughly comparable. Why not recycle and reuse this water?

  10. Steve January 30, 2007 at 2:22 pm #

    Please, tell us about your showerhead study, it sounds fascinating! You’ve actually gone out and asked “a lot of other people” to go out and measure the flow of their showers eh? and report back to you? My, you are conscientious aren’t you?

    Perhaps you could post a link to spreadsheet of data?

    Great conclusion too, a conspiracy of boofheads in the plumbing industry and government is driving this sham policy, while you alone have worked it out with common sense and a comprehensive study. Uh-huh.

  11. La Pantera Rosa January 30, 2007 at 2:40 pm #

    Still wondering why residential water use has decreased if water saving measures don’t work.
    Ian hasn’t the balls to acknowledge that, or that water pressure matters in some houses.
    Ian should take more cold showers.

    Whether or not there are more effective ways to address the problems is a different issue to whether or not the water savings measures bring about savings.

  12. rog January 30, 2007 at 4:01 pm #

    Steve munn, you are a fine one to pass judgement on others as being *sour and abusive*, you got a bollicking on Catallaxy for being sour and abusive – you suffering from PMT?

    Back on the question of collecting stormwater, where do you propose to storee the stuff if not in a dam? In fact, dams specifically collect stormwater so if you are anti dams then your idle urban dreams are sunk, boyo

  13. Steve January 30, 2007 at 4:14 pm #

    In some councils such as Parramatta I think, it is compulsory for new homes to have a stormwater tank installed. This is generally not for water use, but to reduce the impact on the stormwater system.

    That policy pre-dated any water saving policies, so maybe it is different now that new homes are required to have rainwater tanks installed as a water saving measure.

    In any case, stormwater can and is collected in tanks on site in commercial premises, multi-unit residential complexes and some separate houses. It does not need to be stored in a dam, anymore than rainwater does.

  14. rog January 30, 2007 at 4:41 pm #

    Well thats your opinion Steve but the fact of the matter is that the lack of infrastructure has hit a growing population hard. Bunging a s/w tank in the backyard may help those with a backyard, medium and high density dwellers will be left right out of the picture.

    There is no way you can tell me that those expensive ugly green plastic things will resolve the water shortage. I have lived on tank water for decades and those piddly things you see in new estates are a token gesture.

    What is needed are politicians with gumption to build new dams and link them.

  15. Peter Lezaich January 30, 2007 at 4:53 pm #

    re: Steve Munn’s comment “We don’t need more dams, we need to use the already available water better. For example the amount of storm water in metro Melbourne is almost the equivalent of the rain falling in our catchments. I suspect other Australian capital cities are roughly comparable. Why not recycle and reuse this water?”

    Storm water plays an important role in providing environmetnal flows. In rural communities it usually is chanelled into local river systems and in urban commuities it too findsits way into creeks, streams and rivers. If we capture and remove this do we then need to release it to provide environmental flows at a later date?

    As for no need to build dams. Most of the major dam infrastructure projects in NSW at least we planned and completed by the late 1960’s and early 1970’s. The population in 1969 was approx 9 million nationally and now it is just over 20 million. Surely much of today’s water storage problems do stem from a lack of sufficient planning and infrastructure investment by governments of all political pursuasions?

  16. La Pantera Rosa January 30, 2007 at 5:13 pm #

    Big dams and pipe connections are wide open to terrorist attacks and poisoning with Lucas Heights type stuff. Plenty of houses, apartments, sheds and offices have space & geography for water storage under (garage) floor with a reasonable size elevated tank (minimise pumping frequency).

  17. Steve January 30, 2007 at 5:23 pm #

    Rog, its not my opinion that stormwater can be stored in tanks, its a fact, its done. And any new multi-unit development – especially big mid and high rise – probably has a compulsory requirement to collect stormwater from driveways etc in a tank as well, so your example is not well informed. And that’s on top of the fact that they don’t have a garden and consequently have lower water use than people in detached homes.

    I don’t imagine that we can replace our existing dams with stormwater tanks, but I remain optimistic that we could offset the need for a new dam or desal plant for many years with a combo of rainwater and stormwater tanks, water efficiency and water recycling initiatives.

    The stormwater tanks would probably be better off at a street or council level rather than an individual residence level, and the water could be used for non-potable commercial and industrial uses.

    That’s great that you have lived off tank water for many years, however, you are wrong in regarding new rain and stormwater tanks as a token gesture. They may not provide the whole house’s water requirements (particular if you have an inefficient showerhead, a big garden of water hungry foreign plants, wash your car fanatically, do not have dual flush toilets, and have an inefficient top loading washing machine), but they can comfortably provide most of the water for toilet flushing and garden (i’m talking a 4-5kL tank) in a new home (efficient toilets are pretty much compulsory in new homes, as are efficient showerheads). The average new home buyer is not going to reach your levels of water self sufficiency, but its a step in the right direction.

  18. Steve January 30, 2007 at 5:36 pm #


    I live in a rental property. We have an old old gas instantaneous hot water system. As a result, we can’t currently get a 3 star showerhead.

    I got my bucket and timer out just now and measured its flow under a typical shower flow. 7.5Litres in 30secs, or 15 L/min.

    Interestingly enough, i tried turning the tap up full, the flow got stronger, but was hardly spraying and bouncing round the whole bathroom. This is because old showerheads are such high flow that they don’t build up great pressure, even at max turn-on. ITs a heavier downpour, but not a jet of water.

    Low flow showerheads on the other hand are different. At my old house about 8 years ago, we had these extreme showerheads that must have been one of the earlier efficient models. Turn the tap up to even a moderate pressure and it felt like needles in your back. A good massage!

    Given your description of what happens when you turn the tap up full bore, your old showerhead is probably low flow.

    ITs simply not plausible that you and your imaginary friends all got around 5L/minute at normal person shower pressure with a non-efficient showerhead.

    Perhaps others here could do the test as well. Let us know what kind of showerhead you got before reporting your result.

  19. Chuck January 30, 2007 at 5:44 pm #

    Fascinating how many people will dispute a measurement, and heap abuse on the measurer, without bothering to offer alternative measurements.

    I just ran my shower at normal rate (with normal old shower head) and got 9 litres in 85 seconds.

    No way am I putting in a “low flow” head if it uses 9L per minute.

  20. Steve January 30, 2007 at 5:57 pm #

    Do you have a gravity fed hot water system Chuck (hot water tank up in the roof?) IF you do, then your water isn’t at the same pressure as most people, and maybe that is affecting things.

    Otherwise, you probably already have a low flow showerhead, or a flow restrictor in the tap.

    BY the way, i’ve offered two alternative measurements, and referenced the standards for efficient showerheads.

    IF you want to read about the rating of efficient showerheads, got to http://www.waterrating.gov.au. If you search the product database, you can see the enormous variation in showerhead flow rates – from 4.8 L/min up to 37.3 L/min. 9L/min is the limit for 3star showerheads.

  21. La Pantera Rosa January 31, 2007 at 10:10 am #

    On the issue of deception, Jennifer has edited and deleted content of posts without declaring same and edited her own posts and then lied about it. She also tried to control posters and lied about that too. But we weren’t getting personal right, we were discussing fraud, NGOs and then the IPA. Which corporate donors does jennifer and IPA deceitfully hide, bluff, cover-up, fake, pretence, ruse, sham, hoax, trick (even whilst advising the govt on the Murray)?

    Corporate fraudsters go to gaol and sometimes jail because money rules our world in which the vested interests of the powerful are protected. If environmentalists get off lightly it means they haven’t caused enough financial pain to anyone important enough to matter. Also note that in our system it’s a lesser crime to commit physical assaults on a human than nick money from a company.

    Nothing new in those points, so back to square 1: NGOs may be the lesser of these various evils. Isolated examples aside, how can you protest against organised citizens to balance organised business that pees in the pocket of political parties? And how much do you really care about Richard Ness or just using him to pointscore against NGOs (a headlining agenda of the IPA).

  22. La Pantera Rosa January 31, 2007 at 10:10 am #


  23. Hasbeen January 31, 2007 at 9:57 pm #

    I was involved in marketing water, & energy saving equiptment, to health care, hospitality industries, & housing authorities from the mid 70s.

    From the mid 80s, our company, & a number of others, were supplying nicely styled versions of the same stuff to the domestic market.
    Not long after that, it became illegal to sell a shower using more than 9 liters/minute in the USA.
    From that time the only people supplying water wasting showers, in Oz, were the large builders, who bought them in their thousands from asian suppliers.

    Anyone who has replaced their shower head in the last 25 years will, most probably, have an imported, shower head, using less than 7.5 liters/minute, designed for the USA market. You would be hard pressed to find a shower using more than 9 L/M in any shop in Oz.

    As far back as the early 90s, places like Lismore, were subsidising the purchase of these showers for water saving, & the Goss Government subsidised them, to help reduce electricity use.

    Unfortunately, many low flow showers require above 40 PSI water presure to work properly, so presure reduction may be detrimental.
    It takes at least a 9 L/P flow shower head to work with instantaneous gas hot water systems.
    We overcame this, in a country area, where water was more precious than gas, by passing 3 liters per minute of hot water back to the water tank, & the rest to the shower. This increased flow, through the unit, keeps the gas turned on, & overcomes the hot/cold/hot problem experienced with these units.

  24. Ian Mott February 2, 2007 at 1:15 am #

    Steve Munn, google Ian Mott and read my stuff on urban water use, especially of storm water etc, you ignorant bozo.

    Pinkslime expands my concerns about shower heads into an implied denial of all water saving methods so she can launch into another tirade. Most water savings have been from rain falling on gardens so they dont need to be watered and the persecution of gardeners. shower heads have done sweet FA.

    But frankly, you have a serious set of behavioural problems that need attention. You leach the light out of every thread you appear on. Your attack on Jen, above, was totally unwarranted. Do us all a favour and go.

  25. Steve February 2, 2007 at 9:45 am #

    Hasbeen, the Australian water rating website
    http://www.waterrating.gov.au shows that of the almost 2000 rated showerheads (all showerheads sold need a rating label as of dec 2006) less than 10 come from the USA. Most seem to come from China, and some from Europe and some locally produced. Maybe those 10 US designs have the market cornered ay?

    Since there is such a focus on water saving now, most of the showerheads listed on that site are better than 9L/min or better, but there are still a few hundred that are worse. Only a couple hundred are less than 7.5L/min, and not all the USA ones achieve that.

    But it has only been in the last decade that 9L/min or better showerheads have been required in new development across a lot of Australia, rather than individual council rebate programs.

    I think the comment that anyone putting in a new showerhead in the last 25 years would have a low flow one is an exaggeration, but difficult to prove either way, without referring to a study or something.

    In any case, its still ridiculous for Ian to dismiss showerhead replacement programs based on a sample of one.

    Especially given that showers are one of the biggest water users in the home, and replacing an inefficient showerhead with an efficient one is cheap and pays for itself quickly in energy and water savings – a much more economical way for an individual to save water than a rainwater tank.

    SteveM, I wouldn’t bother googling Ian Mott on this blog, unless you want a concentrated hit of self-generated bull, and bullying. He is a very black pot indeed to be criticising anothers behaviour on this blog.

  26. Hasbeen February 2, 2007 at 1:47 pm #

    Steve, I didn’t make that quite clear.
    Most of the shower heads sold in Oz are from Taiwan, [often made in China] designed & made for the USA market.
    The Australian companies took advantage of the huge range of gear made for the USA market, at that time.
    The USA manufacturers had the same problem as us, trying to compete with the price/quality comming out of Taiwan.

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